Non-steroidal inhalers

Non-steroid preventer inhalers are an alternative to steroid preventer inhalers. They’re prescribed to reduce and prevent inflammation in the airways over the long term. Although most preventer inhalers do contain steroids, these medicines work without them.

"We strongly recommend that you’re given a steroid based inhaler first," says Asthma UK’s clinical team, "because non-steroidal inhalers aren’t so good at dealing with the inflammation."

What non-steroid preventer inhalers are there?

Intal (sodium cromoglicate) is an MDI (Metered Dose Inhaler). It can be prescribed to adults and to children over 5. This medicine works well for you if your asthma is triggered by an allergy or exercise.

Tilade (nedocromil sodium) is also a MDI (Metered Dose Inhaler). The medicine is mint flavoured. It is suitable for adults and children over 6 years.

You or your child might be prescribed a non-steroid inhaler when:

  • You’re unable to take a steroid based inhaler
  • As an add-on therapy if you have exercise induced asthma.
  • You’re having side effects that you can’t manage from taking steroid inhalers
  • You’re reluctant to take steroid based inhalers

Evidence suggests non-steroidal inhalers might be useful to people with allergic asthma.

How do they help with asthma?

Non-steroidal inhalers are preventers. They help by calming the inflammation in the airways and keeping the airways open. This means you’ll be able to breathe more easily, have fewer asthma symptoms and cope better with your asthma triggers. Your preventer inhaler needs to be taken every day as prescribed to see these results.

Do they work as well as the inhalers which use steroids?

No. Non-steroidal inhalers are not as effective as the steroid based preventer inhalers at reducing inflammation in the airways. They are prescribed as a non-steroid alternative, but may not be the best option for some people.

Over time non-steroid inhalers can become unsuitable for some people. If you feel like it’s not working, or you feel unwell, or your asthma symptoms are worse it’s important that you tell your GP or asthma nurse.

How often do you need to take your non-steroid inhaler?

Non-steroidal inhalers need to be taken regularly every day for them to have an effect on the inflammation. However they need to be taken more often than steroid based preventers – up to 3 or 4 times a day on a regular basis. If you’ve been prescribed a non-steroidal inhaler, your GP or asthma nurse will tell you how often you need to take it.

With any asthma preventer medicine it’s very important to get into a good routine of taking it regularly as prescribed. Find out how you can set a good habit for taking your preventer inhaler.

Will I still need other asthma medicines?

Yes. You’ll still need a reliever inhaler.

Your non-steroid inhaler works on the long term inflammation in the airways so it will improve asthma symptoms. But it won’t be any good if you’re symptoms flare up or you have an asthma attack – that’s when you need your reliever inhaler to work quickly to open up the airways.

How will I know if it’s improving my asthma?

Usually non-steroidal inhalers are given to someone for 4-6 weeks to see how they respond. If they’re not making any difference to asthma symptoms you’ll come off them gradually over a week.

Are there any side effects?

Most medicines have side effects but not everyone experiences them.

Side effects for Intal include sore throat, cough, headache and bronchospasm.

Side effects for Tilade include nausea, stomach ache, and vomiting. Some people find they get a bitter taste in the mouth after using Tilade but this is quite rare.

If you’re worried about any side effects speak to your GP or asthma nurse. You can also talk to one of our Helpline nurses by calling 0800 121 62 44.

Last reviewed May 2015

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